Students shave heads to raise cancer awareness
By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
SALISBURY — Livingstone senior Eugene Brown has felt the effects of breast cancer up close and personal.
One of his aunts is a breast cancer survivor. Another aunt lost her battle to the disease in April.
So last month, Brown, of Suitland, Md., organized “Bald for the Cause,” an event during which Livingstone College students and alumni shaved their heads as a show of solidarity for breast cancer victims and survivors. He got the idea while interning on Capitol Hill over the summer but implemented it to coincide with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which ends Monday.
“Originally it was going to be my own visual demonstration,” said Brown, a business administration major. “I was going to shave my head in honor of my two aunts. But after sharing my idea with some close friends including DeAndre Thompson and Jeremy Ratcliff, after seeing how quickly people were willing to join me and after hearing a freshman tell me he lost his mother to breast cancer when he was only 8 years old, I realized that we had to make this a school-wide event.”
And so on Sept. 29, Brown and about 40 other Livingstone College students and alumni participated in “Bald for the Cause.” And while they didn’t get their heads shaved, 160 more students attended the event in front of Livingstone’s student union to lend support and read brochures about the disease.
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Breast cancer is expected to kill more than 39,500 women in the U.S. this year alone, according to statistics from breastcancer.org. In fact, breast cancer death rates in the U.S. are higher than any other cancer besides lung cancer, the organization says.
Ann Ware, a licensed practical nurse and Livingstone College’s Director of Health Services, said she was impressed with the students for organizing “Bald for the Cause.”
“I thought what the students did was wonderful,” Ware said. “I thought it was a really different idea, especially for the guys to do that. In the past most of the initiatives targeting breast cancer were spearheaded by women, but these days everybody is doing something for breast cancer. There’s a high awareness for breast cancer.”
Like most diseases, breast cancer doesn’t discriminate by race, but African-American women die from breast cancer at higher rates than other women, Ware said.
“Every major disease affects African-Americans more, and that’s usually because of socio-economic reasons,” Ware said. “A lot of people don’t have insurance, and a lot of people aren’t educated to go to the doctor, but African-Americans are more susceptible to most diseases.”
Also, many women fail to get annual mammograms or to perform breast self-examinations, Ware said.
Livingstone senior Sweetie Sherman performs monthly self exams. She also had her head shaved on Sept. 29.
“I did it because when I was in high school I started having pains in my right breast,” said Sherman, who was born in Liberia but moved with her family to Charlotte at age 9.
“I went to the doctor and he did a mammogram. It turns out I didn’t have breast cancer. A couple of weeks before we participated in ‘Bald for the Cause’ I started having more pains in that same breast so I did another mammogram. Thankfully, I found out a week after ‘Bald for the Cause’ that I don’t have breast cancer, but I have to go back in six months for a follow-up appointment,” she said.
Earlier this month, during an assembly in Varick Auditorium, a video showed Sherman, Brown and other students getting their heads shaved. As she sat in the barber’s chair, Sherman cried.
“The date we shaved our heads for breast cancer is the same date three years ago that I lost my maternal grandmother, Jangar Murphee,” Sherman said. “She was 86. She didn’t die of breast cancer, but that was still a very emotional day for me.”
Sherman was the only female student to get her head shaven but shrugs off the notion that she’s brave. Her hair will grow back, but many women who undergo chemotherapy treatments to fight breast cancer eventually lose much more than their hair, she said.
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Justin Carter and Ratcliff also got their heads shaved during “Bald for the Cause.”
Carter, a senior history major from Richmond, Va., said his aunt, Rebecca Mills of Hanover, Va., is a breast cancer survivor.
“I was doing it in honor of her and just for people with cancer, period, Carter said. “My father, Clarence Carter, died of pancreatic cancer in 2008, and my aunt also died of cancer.”
Ratcliff said he doesn’t plan to let “Bald for the Cause” be his only time lending a hand to support breast cancer.
“It felt really good to be a part of something bigger than myself and bigger than the school,” said Ratcliff, a junior political science major from Raleigh.
“Breast cancer is something people everywhere can relate to on a global level, and shaving my head during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is something I’m going to do every year I live because breast cancer continues to affect the lives of millions.”
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Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr. couldn’t say enough about Brown and the other students who participated in “Bald for the Cause.” Community service is an integral part of the holistic college approach Jenkins implemented at Livingstone when he arrived five years ago.
“As a college president or chancellor for more than 26 years I’ve seen students organize fund raisers at Thanksgiving and Christmas for needy families, I’ve seen them sponsor car washes to raise money for different organizations and I’ve seen them come together for sporting events,” Jenkins said. “But it really touched me in a special way and filled me with a sense of pride when our students mobilized and lent support to an illness that affects so many women, particularly African-Americans.
“It’s often said today’s young people are lost and don’t recognize the importance of benevolence and being good public servants. I maintain that Livingstone College students demonstrated through the ‘Bald for the Cause’ initiative that they aren’t lost and certainly comprehend the relevance of helping others, and I’m so very proud of them.”
To watch the “Bald for the Cause” video, go to: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZsHqW1cajw&feature=player_profilepage